The State Park You Don't Want to Miss in Every State

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person at Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah
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SEA TO SHINING SEA

America's stunning national parks usually get top billing, but they're far from the only places to enjoy some of the nation's best scenery. If you'd prefer not to battle the crowds for a little slice of heaven, consider a state park for the next weekend getaway. Many are just as stunning as their more well-known siblings, and just as budget-friendly.
Gulf State Park, Alabama
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ALABAMA: GULF

The white sand beaches at Gulf State Park might be the most recognizable feature, but this place is loaded with amenities and activities including a golf course, geocaching, kayaking, and paddle boarding, Segway tours, a 496-site campground, cabins and cottages, and even the largest pier on the Gulf of Mexico.
Don't miss: Rent a bike and take a leisurely ride on the 25-mile Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail.

Chugach State Park, Alaska
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ALASKA: CHUGACH

Stunning Chugach spans a staggering 495,000 acres in southcentral Alaska, making it one of the nation's largest state parks. Backpackers can follow the Iditarod National Historic Trail, but there's more to do than hiking, including horseback riding, boating, biking, off-roading, or snowmobiling.
Don't miss: The 200-foot Thunder Bird Falls is a big payoff reached via a mere 1-mile hike through a birch forest. In winter, you may get to the falls frozen in mid-air.

Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona
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ARIZONA: LOST DUTCHMAN

This park in the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix has all the best features of a classic Arizona desert landscape, including towering red rock formations, tall green cacti, and brilliant sunsets. A mountain biking loop opened recently, and the park is renowned for its clear night skies. Enjoy them during a full moon hike or a star party, both frequent events at the park.
Don't miss: The spring wildflower displays at Lost Dutchman can be breathtaking. Look for poppies, lupine, desert evening primrose, bluebells, and more. Peak season is usually March, before temperatures rise.

Devil's Den State Park, Arkansas
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ARKANSAS: DEVIL'S DEN

Established by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, Devil's Den State Park showcases the lush beauty of the Ozarks with opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, canoeing, and fishing. Cabins, campsites, and a cafe and pool make it a beautiful place for a family getaway.
Don't miss: The looped 15-mile Butterfield Hiking Trail gives experienced backpackers the chance to drink in dramatic scenic views and explore some of the surrounding Ozark National Forest.

Gerstle Cove Marine Reserve in Salt Point State Park, California
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CALIFORNIA: SALT POINT

In a state with scenery in spades, Salt Point State Park stands out for providing a postcard-perfect example of California's rugged coastal beauty. It sprawls over more than 6,000 acres north of San Francisco, showcasing Pacific clifftops, coves, prairies, and pygmy forests. Hiking and horseback-riding trails are abundant. Fishing and diving are also allowed in some areas.
Don't miss: Explore the tide pools at Gerstle Cove Marine Reserve, one of the state's first protected underwater areas. You'll find a thriving community of red abalone, sea urchins, shore crabs, and more.

Eldorado Canyon State Park, Colorado
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COLORADO: ELDORADO CANYON

The dramatic rock formations and golden cliffs of Eldorado Canyon State Park are just a short drive for anyone in Boulder or Denver. Come to watch climbers scramble up the rocks, or go hiking, fishing, mountain biking, or horseback riding. Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing make this a cold-weather destination, too.
Don't miss: There are more than 500 technical rock-climbing routes at Eldorado Canyon, which features sandstone cliffs up to 700 feet high. There's something for everyone, beginners or experts.

Dinosaur State Park, Connecticut
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CONNECTICUT: DINOSAUR STATE PARK

Dinosaur State Park isn't a typical forest-and-streams destination, which is precisely what makes it worth a look. It is one of the largest dinosaur-track sites on the continent, and many of the tracks are preserved in a geodesic dome that also houses enough exhibits to please the most dino-obsessed kid (or adult). Outside, an arboretum includes unusual species with ancient roots including giant sequoia, plum yew, and monkey puzzle tree.
Don't miss: Visitors can mine for gems and fossils or make casts of a dinosaur track using plaster of Paris during the peak summer season.

Cape Henlopen State Park, Delaware
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DELAWARE: CAPE HENLOPEN

Escape the crowds from nearby Rehoboth and Bethany beaches at Cape Henlopen State Park, renowned for its wide expanse of wind-swept beaches, dunes, and wildflower-lined trails. The park is especially great for birders, as close to 300 species of shorebirds, songbirds, hawks, ducks, and more have been observed here.
Don't miss: An 18-hole disc golf course provides fun for families who want to take a break from the beach.

Ichetucknee Springs State Park, Florida
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FLORIDA: ICHETUCKNEE SPRINGS

Florida's beaches often steal the show, but its inland springs are just as deserving of time. At Ichetucknee Springs State Park, the crystalline river and lush tree canopy combine for a refreshing break from the swampy heat. Rent a canoe, kayak, or stand-up paddleboard to explore the water. Hiking, geocaching, snorkeling, swimming, and birding are also popular.
Don't miss: Ichetucknee is one of Florida's premier tubing destinations, providing a relaxing way for families to enjoy being on the water together. Tube rentals are available, or you can bring your own.

Tallulah Gorge State Park, Georgia
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GEORGIA: TALLULAH GORGE

Tallulah Gorge State Park showcases a 1,000-foot-deep canyon that's spectacular to behold from abundant rim trails and scenic overlooks. Follow the rocky but short Sliding Rock Trail down to Bridal Veil Falls, where you can slide down a smooth rock into a swimming hole. Other activities include mountain biking, archery, geocaching, and fishing.
Don't miss: During April and November, water releases mean whitewater kayakers can tackle Class IV and V rapids in the gorge. If you're not that much of adrenaline junkie, there are plenty of places to watch the action from above.

Waimea Canyon State Park, Hawaii
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HAWAII: WAIMEA CANYON

Kauai's Waimea Canyon, otherwise known as the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific," shows visitors yet another side of Hawaii's abundant beauty. Colorful canyon walls, waterfalls, rainbows, and plentiful panoramic views make it hard to snap a bad photo. Follow Waimea Canyon Road for easy access to the best overlooks.
Don't miss: Hikers should head to neighboring Kokee State Park for a wide variety of trails, both along the rim of Waimea Canyon and down into the lush rainforest.

Farragut State Park, Idaho
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IDAHO: FARRAGUT

Spread over 4,000 acres in the Idaho Panhandle, Farragut State Park used to host a naval training station during World War II. Today, visitors can swim, boat, and fish in the mountain-ringed Lake Pend Oreille, explore miles of hiking and mountain-biking trails, or tackle three 18-hole disc golf courses.
Don't miss: The park's Museum at the Brig, one of the few remaining structures from the park's time as a naval training station, chronicles Farragut's naval history and tells the story of recruits who went through basic training here before being shipped off to war.

Starved Rock State Park, Illinois
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ILLINOIS: STARVED ROCK

Starved Rock State Park is an unexpected gem hiding in the cornfields that dominate north-central Illinois. It includes 18 canyons, 14 with waterfalls that are especially lovely in the spring after snow and ice melt. Ice climbing and cross-country skiing are allowed if conditions permit in the winter. Other activities include hiking, horseback riding, hunting, fishing, canoeing, and kayaking.
Don't miss: The park's lodge offers a number of family-friendly activities, including musical tribute shows, guided hikes, trolley tours, and indoor swimming.

Brown County State Park, Indiana
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INDIANA: BROWN COUNTY

Brown County State Park encompasses close to 16,000 acres of leafy hills, scenic overlooks, and lush foliage that makes this an especially dazzling spot in the fall. Hiking, fishing, mountain biking, and tennis are on offer. The park lodge comes complete with an indoor waterpark, but there are plenty of cabins and campsites for those who want a more rustic experience.
Don't miss: The park's Saddle Barn offers horseback rides for visitors 7 and older, and pony rides for smaller children. There are also hayrides every Friday and Saturday evening June through October.

Richmond Springs at Backbone State Park, Iowa
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IOWA: BACKBONE

Northeast Iowa's Backbone, the state's first state park, remains one of its best for a wide variety of terrain and activities. A lake and more than 2,000 wooded acres offer spots for climbing and rappelling, swimming, boating, canoeing, hiking, mountain biking, and more. A Civilian Conservation Corps Museum provides visitors a look at the agency's contributions across Iowa, and Backbone includes many CCC-constructed buildings and shelters.
Don't miss: Whether you're an amateur or expert angler, the park's Richmond Springs stream is renowned for trout fishing. It's stocked April through October.

El Cuartelejo at Lake Scott State Park, Kansas
Photo credit: Lake Scott State Park, Kansas by Jimmy Emerson, DVM (CC BY)

KANSAS: LAKE SCOTT

Offering a winning combination of scenery and history, Lake Scott State Park is an unexpected oasis on the dry Kansas prairie. Fishers, boaters, and swimmers can flock to the 100-acre spring-fed Scott State Fishing Lake, and there are plenty of trails for hikers, horseback riders, and wildlife spotters.
Don't miss: Lake Scott includes the ruins of the northernmost pueblo in the United States, seven-room El Cuartelejo, now designated a National Historic Landmark.

Cumberland Falls State Resort Park, Kentucky
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KENTUCKY: CUMBERLAND FALLS

Surrounded by Daniel Boone National Forest, Cumberland Falls State Resort Park offers plenty of activities for a family getaway, including horseback riding, gem mining, guided rafting trips, swimming, and tennis. Hikes range from quick half-mile walks to a the 11-mile Moonbow Trail. Stay at the historic DuPont Lodge, rent a cottage, or snag a campsite.
Don't miss: The park's 68-foot namesake falls, known as "The Niagara of the South," are impressive any time of day. But stick around for a night with a full moon and you may be able to see a rare "moonbow" in the mist.

Chicot State Park, Louisiana
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LOUISIANA: CHICOT

Encompassing 6,400 acres, Chicot State Park is anchored by massive Chicot Lake. Flat-bottom boats and canoes are available to rent, and anglers will find a ready supply of largemouth bass, crappie, bluegill, and sunfish. Hikers can test their endurance on a 20-mile trail encircling the park, and kids can enjoy a splash pad open April through October.
Don't miss: The 600-acre Louisiana State Arboretum is within Chicot, showcasing nearly every kind of the state's vegetation and including well-maintained trails with interpretive signs.

Baxter State Park, Maine
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MAINE: BAXTER

To say Baxter State Park is large is an understatement: It spreads across more than 209,000 acres of north-central Maine, wowing visitors with its remote forests, rushing waterfalls, placid ponds, and craggy rocks. This hiker's paradise has more than 220 miles of trail, including part of the Appalachian Trail. Fishing, canoeing, kayaking, climbing, and cycling are on tap, too.
Don't miss: The stunning but strenuous full-day hike up Mount Katahdin, Maine's highest peak, is the park's bucket-list experience. Parking at the trailheads is limited, so officials recommend reserving a parking spot before coming, especially during summer and on weekends.

wild horses at Assateague State Park, Maryland
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MARYLAND: ASSATEAGUE

Assateague State Park, on a barrier island of the same name, feels like it's a world away from the densely populated East Coast. Activities here are slower-paced: Visitors can relax at the beach, fish, surf, canoe, kayak, fly kites, or ride bikes. Campers will find 350 sites, some with electric hookups, available from the end of April through October.
Don't miss: One of the biggest draws of Assateague is its famous wild horses. Just be sure to keep a safe distance from these unpredictable beauties — the park says at least a bus length — and keep all food in a secured cooler while on the beach.

Nickerson State Park, Massachusetts
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MASSACHUSETTS: NICKERSON

Explore what Cape Cod has to offer besides the beach at Nickerson State Park. It encompasses some of the Cape's inland forests and placid ponds, including some that are stocked year-round with fish. Hikers, boaters, and campers will also have plenty to do here. Repelled by the high cost of lodging on Cape Cod? Try out one of the 400 campsites or even rent a yurt.
Don't miss: Hop on your bike and explore: There are more than 10 miles of paved bike paths inside the park, which is also connected to the 22-mile Cape Cod Rail Trail.

Porcupine Mountains State Park, Michigan
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MICHIGAN: PORCUPINE MOUNTAINS

This 60,000-acre wilderness on the Upper Peninsula is easily Michigan's largest state park and offers plenty of room for visitors who want solitude. Highlights include dazzling views along the Lake Superior shoreline, a massive old-growth forest, 90 miles of hiking trails, canoe and kayak rentals, disc golf, fishing, and hunting. For a truly unique camping experience, rent one of the park's four yurts.
Don't miss: The Porcupine Mountain Ski Area offers more than a dozen groomed trails and a 641-foot drop. There's also snowshoeing, snowmobiling, and cross-country skiing.

Itasca State Park, Minnesota
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MINNESOTA: ITASCA

Minnesota's oldest state park, Itasca is home to 32,000 acres and more than 100 lakes. Activities include boating, canoeing, swimming, hiking, and biking. Wildlife enthusiasts will want to check out the Itasca Wilderness Sanctuary, a park within the park that protects old-growth forest and plenty of native plants and animals.
Don't miss: Get a close-up look at the headwaters of the mighty Mississippi River, marked with a monument on Lake Itasca. The Mary Gibbs Mississippi Headwaters Center includes outdoor interpretive displays and a cafeteria-style restaurant.

Tishomingo State Park, Mississippi
Photo credit: Tishomingo State Park, Mississippi by Visit Mississippi (CC BY)

MISSISSIPPI: TISHOMINGO

The forested, boulder-strewn landscape of Tishomingo State Park was home to Native Americans as early as 7000 B.C. Today, visitors at this park in the Appalachian foothills can enjoy 13 miles of hiking trails, rock climbing, disc golf, canoeing, and fishing. The scenic Natchez Trace Parkway also runs through the park.
Don't miss: The 3-mile Flat Rock Trail is a good introduction to Tishomingo, leading hikers through the hardwood forest, along large rock outcroppings, and beside crystal-clear streams.

Ha Ha Tonka State Park, Missouri
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MISSOURI: HA HA TONKA

Ha Ha Tonka State Park showcases some of Missouri's more impressive geologic features, including caves, sinkholes, lakeside bluffs, and a 100-foot-high natural bridge. Lake of the Ozarks beckons for swimming, fishing, and boating, while more than a dozen trails allow for easy strolls and longer, more challenging routes.
Don't miss: Explore the ruins of a turn-of-the-century stone castle on a high bluff over Lake of the Ozarks. Built as the home of a wealthy businessman who was soon killed in a car accident, it eventually became a hotel, only to be destroyed by a fire in the 1940s.

Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park, Montana
Photo credit: Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park, Montana by Troy Smith (CC BY)

MONTANA: LEWIS AND CLARK CAVERNS

One of the most impressive state parks in Big Sky Country actually sends visitors underground. The limestone Lewis and Clark Caverns wow visitors with stalagmites and stalactites galore and can be explored on tours appropriate for all ages and fitness levels. Not into caves? Hiking, mountain biking, fishing, canoeing, and hunting are other popular activities.
Don't miss: The three-hour Wild Cave Tour, available for ages 12 and up, outfits participants with helmets, knee pads, gloves, and headlamps before taking them deep into the caves — and the dark.

Fort Robinson State Park, Nebraska
Photo credit: Fort Robinson State Park, Nebraska by Ben Schmitt (CC BY)

NEBRASKA: FORT ROBINSON

Fort Robinson is no blip on the map: There are 22,000 acres of dramatic buttes and canyons to explore in northwestern Nebraska's Pine Ridge region. A former U.S. Army fort as early as the Old West era, this vacation-ready park has amenities including two museums, a golf course, indoor and outdoor pools, and even a family-friendly musical theater.
Don't miss: Soak in all the western kitsch you can handle by visiting in the summer, when your options will include breakfast hayrides, steak cookouts, old-fashioned rodeos, stagecoach rides, and horse-drawn carriage tours.

Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada
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NEVADA: VALLEY OF FIRE

Nebraska's otherworldly desert landscape is on full display in Valley of Fire State Park, which stretches for 40,000 acres just an hour northeast of Las Vegas. Stunning sandstone formations stretch as far as the eye can see, and there are several intriguing slot canyons for hikers to explore. Also on offer: rock climbing, biking, bird watching, and wildlife spotting.
Don't miss: The park is home to many ancient petroglyphs dating back thousands of years. The best viewing spots include Atlatl Rock and the short, sandy Mouse Tank Trail.

Franconia Notch State Park, New Hampshire
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NEW HAMPSHIRE: FRANCONIA NOTCH

Franconia Notch State Park, surrounded by White Mountain National Forest, is embedded in a winding mountain pass that packs in a surprising number of must-sees. They include the narrow Flume Gorge, iconic Old Man of the Mountain, New England Ski Museum, and placid Echo Lake. Summer visitors can swim, canoe, fish, hike, and mountain bike; winter visitors can look forward to downhill and cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, and snowshoeing.
Don't miss: Take an eight-minute ride on an aerial tramway to the 4,080-foot summit of Cannon Mountain for panoramic views. On a clear day, see as far as Maine, New York, and Canada from the observation deck.

Allaire State Park, New Jersey
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NEW JERSEY: ALLAIRE

Allaire State Park is a peaceful slice of New Jersey that has all the trappings of a good state park, including 20 miles of hiking trails through forests and old farmland. Mountain biking and horseback riding are also permitted on some trails. But the park's unique historic attractions, including a living history museum and an old steam railway, are the major draw.
Don't miss: The Historic Village at Allaire gives visitors a firsthand look at early 19th century life in a factory town. Costumed interpreters tell their stories in restored homes, a chapel, a bakery, craft shops, and other historic buildings.

Cerrillos Hills State Park, New Mexico
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NEW MEXICO: CERRILLOS HILLS

Just outside Santa Fe, Cerrillos Hills State Park gives visitors a chance to experience a landscape of ancient volcanoes, historic mines, and dazzling sunrises and sunsets. Hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding are among everyday activities, and frequent events have included star parties, landscape photography classes, and even — gulp — tarantula hikes.
Don't miss: There are at least 10 historic mines along Cerrillos Hills' trails, all with interpretive signs about what used to go on there. All shafts have been safeguarded.

Watkins Glen State Park, New York
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NEW YORK: WATKINS GLEN

One of the nation's most gorgeous gorges is the star at Watkins Glen State Park in New York's Finger Lakes region. Hiking along the stunning 200-foot cliffs, 19 waterfalls, and scenic overlooks is the main attraction, but that's not all. There's also a large swimming pool complex and chances to bike, fish, hunt, and cross-country ski in the winter.
Don't miss: The 60-foot Central Cascade is the park's highest waterfall. Water rushes into a series of deep, rounded pools, or potholes, before flowing down to another waterfall, Rainbow Falls. You can walk behind it and spot rainbows there on sunny days.

Hutchinson Homestead at Stone Mountain State Park, North Carolina
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NORTH CAROLINA: STONE MOUNTAIN

The namesake of this 14,000-acre state park in northwestern North Carolina is a show-stopping 600-foot granite dome covered with ridges from water erosion. There are trails for hikers and horseback riders, 20 miles of trout streams for fishers, and designated areas for rock climbers.
Don't miss: The park has a variety of historic sites, including the 19th century Hutchinson Homestead with a log cabin, blacksmith shop, barn, and more. Also here: an original turn-of-the-century Baptist church that still holds Sunday services much of the year.

Little Missouri State Park, North Dakota
Photo credit: Little Missouri State Park, North Dakota by NPCA Photos (CC BY)

NORTH DAKOTA: LITTLE MISSOURI

A beautifully rugged example of the Dakotas' unique Badlands landscape, Little Missouri State Park covers close to 4,600 acres. This is a primitive park, which means there aren't a ton of amenities — even roads are in short supply. But anyone willing to lace up their sneakers or hop on a horse is almost guaranteed solitude and scenery in spades.
Don't miss: Horseback riding is the marquee activity at Little Missouri, and there are 47 miles of trails. Corrals are available and there are artesian wells throughout the park to keep horses hydrated.

Ash Cave at Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio
Photo credit: Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio by Kyle Hartshorn (CC BY)

OHIO: HOCKING HILLS

A stunning showcase of Ohio's Appalachian foothills, Hocking Hills State Park offers a series of eye-popping cliffs, caves, rock formations, and waterfalls carved from sandstone. Though the hiking alone is worth the trip, you'll also find archery, fishing, and mountain biking. Horseback riding and climbing are available in neighboring Hocking State Forest.
Don't miss: Take a short hike through a hemlock-lined gorge to reach Ash Cave, the largest recess cave in the eastern U.S. with a 700-foot rim. Go in the spring for the best shot at seeing a dazzling runoff waterfall plummet into the cave.

Lake Murray State Park, Oklahoma
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OKLAHOMA: LAKE MURRAY

Sprawling over 12,500 acres in south-central Oklahoma, Lake Murray State Park is a one-stop vacation destination. Forested hills and plenty of water accommodate hiking, horseback riding, four-wheeling, boating, fishing, swimming, and paddle boarding. And if you want to stay more than a day, there are plenty of options, including nine RV campgrounds, tent camp sites, cabins of all sizes, and a 32-room lodge.
Don't miss: Golfers will enjoy the tree-lined Lake Murray State Park Golf Course, complete with a waterfall, pro shop, and practice range. The kids can also get in on the action at the park's mini golf course.

Silver Falls State Park, Oregon
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OREGON: SILVER FALLS

The trip into the foothills of the Cascade Mountains is well worth it once you reach massive Silver Falls State Park. There, you can walk behind a 177-foot waterfall and tackle more than 35 miles of gorgeously green trails, watching for bears and even cougars on the way. Horseback riding and mountain biking are also allowed.
Don't miss: The gorgeous Trail of Ten Falls, a National Recreation Trail, takes hikers on a 7-mile canyon loop through towering fir trees and lush ferns, passing many ethereal waterfalls along the way.

Ricketts Glen State Park, Pennsylvania
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PENNSYLVANIA: RICKETTS GLEN

Covering more than 13,000 acres in three northeastern Pennsylvania counties, Ricketts Glen State Park shows off old-growth forests, gushing waterfalls, rocky cliffs, and a picture-perfect lake. Visitors can hike, swim, boat, fish, or simply relax and drink in the views. Ice fishing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing make it a winter destination, too.
Don't miss: Glens Natural Area within the park is a National Natural Landmark. It encompasses some of the park's best scenery, including more than 20 waterfalls. The 7-mile Falls Trail allows hikers easy access.

East Bay Bike Path at Colt State Park, Rhode Island
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RHODE ISLAND: COLT

Colt State Park in historic Bristol showcases tiny Rhode Island at its manicured best. Instead of wild forests and rustic trails, you'll find well-maintained lawns, rambling stone walls, fruit groves, and expansive views of Narragansett Bay best taken in from a 55-foot observation tower. The park is especially popular with walkers, joggers, and cyclists.
Don't miss: Enjoy a leisurely ride on the 14-mile East Bay Bike Path, which begins near Colt State Park and runs all the way up the coast to the state capital, Providence.

The Hunting Island Lighthouse at Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina
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SOUTH CAROLINA: HUNTING ISLAND

Every year, Hunting Island State Park welcomes more than 1 million visitors who flock here for its unspoiled beaches, marshes, maritime forests, and placid saltwater lagoon. Anglers can head to Johnson Creek, the lagoon, the beach, or a 1,120-foot fishing pier. Get out on the water on a boat, canoe, or kayak, or stay dry on an 8-mile biking and hiking trail.
Don't miss: The Hunting Island Lighthouse is the only publicly accessible lighthouse in the state. Built originally in 1859, it was rebuilt after being destroyed in the Civil War. Visitors can climb 167 cast-iron steps for 360-degree views of the sand and surf.

Custer State Park, South Dakota
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SOUTH DAKOTA: CUSTER

Skip Custer State Park in favor of nearby Badlands National Park and you'll be missing some of the most gorgeous scenery in the state. Custer stretches for 71,000 acres in the Black Hills, giving visitors the chance to fish, hike, ride, climb, bike, swim, and more. Frequent programs include adventure hikes, bison talks, and wildlife caravans. You can even cap off the day with a show at the Black Hills Playhouse right in the middle of the park.
Don't miss: Follow the Wildlife Loop Road and keep an eye out for the park's most well-known residents: bison, elk, deer, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, and prairie dogs. For a truly unique experience, come in November for the buffalo auction.

Fall Creek Falls State Park, Tennessee
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TENNESSEE: FALL CREEK FALLS

Fall Creek Falls fuses natural beauty and ample amenities in a way that makes it easy to see why this is Tennessee's most-visited state park. The crown jewel is the park's namesake waterfall, one of the highest in the eastern U.S. at 256 feet. Rock climbing, boating, swimming, mountain biking, fishing, and golf are all popular diversions, or you can just get lost on more than 56 miles of hiking trails.
Don't miss: Spend more than two hours high in the trees on a canopy challenge course that includes 70 aerial obstacles such as rope ladders and bridges, swings, and zip lines. Challenges are available for most ages, including children as young as 4.

Palo Duro Canyon State Park, Texas
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TEXAS: PALO DURO CANYON

Colorful Palo Duro Canyon is second only in size to a far more famous canyon: the Grand Canyon. The park is a major draw for hikers, mountain bikers, bird watchers, and most of all, for horseback riders, who can explore 1,500 acres on their own horse or during a guided tour. Watch for hoodoos, which are larger rocks balanced on top of smaller formations, and the little Palo Duro mouse, native to just three Texas counties.
Don't miss: Enjoy a tasty chuck-wagon dinner and a family-friendly show, "Texas," surrounded by the natural beauty of the park at the Pioneer Amphitheater.

Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah
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UTAH: DEAD HORSE POINT

An equally gorgeous alternative to Utah's often-crowded national parks, Dead Horse Point State Park showcases the mesas, canyons, and buttes so integral to the state's landscape. Popular activities include hiking, mountain biking, and geocaching. Want to stay the night? There are two campgrounds and several yurts for the "glamping" crowd.
Don't miss: As an International Dark Sky Park, Dead Horse Point is an ideal destination for stargazers. Watch for star parties, which gather rangers and telescope-toting enthusiasts for nighttime viewings.

Emerald Lake State Park, Vermont
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VERMONT: EMERALD LAKE

So named because its 20-acre lake looks bright green when viewed from above, Emerald Lake State Park is a placid place to take a hike or a dip. A small beach has canoes, kayaks, pedal boats, and paddle boards for rent — no motorized boats are allowed. Mountain bikers will also find plenty of trails.
Don't miss: Park interpreters frequently hold educational programs and activities at Emerald Lake. The park also participates in the Reel Fun Program, which provides free loaner fishing gear to amateur anglers.

Douthat State Park, Virginia
Photo credit: Douthat State Park, Virginia by Virginia State Parks (CC BY)

VIRGINIA: DOUTHAT

One of Virginia's original state parks and still one of its best, Douthat showcases some of the state's best mountain scenery while maintaining enough amenities to be a family-friendly getaway. Lodges, cabins, and campsites await at the end of a long day spent hiking, fishing a stocked lake, boating, mountain biking, or horseback riding.
Don't miss: Summertime means a full slate of ranger-led programs, including guided hikes, canoe tours, crafts, and children's programming.

Deception Pass State Park, Washington
Photo credit: Deception Pass State Park, Washington by Selbe. (CC BY)

WASHINGTON: DECEPTION PASS

Just 90 minutes outside Seattle, Deception Pass isn't short on classic Pacific Northwest scenery. Visitors can explore the peaceful Puget Sound shoreline, hike or mountain bike through old-growth forest, go crabbing or white-water kayaking, sail, dive, fish, and more. The park is also steeped in history from the Salish tribes that settled the area, Spanish and English exploration in the late 1700s, and Civilian Conservation Corps improvements in the 1930s.
Don't miss: The tide pools around Rosario Beach are ripe for exploration, and the water farther offshore is an ideal spot to spy dolphins, orcas, or even whales.

Canaan Valley Resort State Park, West Virginia
Photo credit: canaanvalleyresort/facebook.com

WEST VIRGINIA: CANAAN VALLEY

Discover wild, wonderful West Virginia at Canaan Valley Resort State Park, a fusion of natural beauty and resort amenities in the leafy Allegheny Mountains. Traditional activities such as hiking, biking, skiing, and geocaching are all here, but there's also golf, sporting clays, ice skating, a chairlift, a climbing wall, and other more exotic pursuits.
Don't miss: Come in the winter for snow tubing on the 1,200-foot multilane tube park, the longest in the region. A "magic carpet" will speed you back to the top of the course for the next run.

Parfrey's Glen in Devil's Lake State Park, Wisconsin
Photo credit: Devil's Lake State Park, Wisconsin by Dave (CC BY)

WISCONSIN: DEVIL'S LAKE

The largest and most-visited state park in Wisconsin, Devil's Lake is a must-stop on the 1,000-mile Ice Age National Scenic Trail. Quartzite bluffs, unique rock formations, and a 360-acre lake are among the most notable features. Popular activities include mountain biking, rock climbing, boating, paddling, swimming, diving, fishing, and hunting. In the winter, hardy souls return for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and ice fishing.
Don't miss: Take a short trail down into Parfrey's Glen, a State Natural Area within the park. This mossy, narrow ravine is home to diverse flora and fauna and feels like something out of a fairy tale.

Hot Springs State Park, Wyoming
Photo credit: Courtesy of wikimedia.org

WYOMING: HOT SPRINGS

It may smell like sulfur, but Hot Springs State Park is well worth a trip to Thermopolis in north-central Wyoming, especially if you're already heading to Yellowstone. Named for the 8,000 gallons of 128-degree water that flow over mineral terraces at the Big Horn River, the park also features a free-roaming bison herd. In the summer, a flower garden explodes into bloom.
Don't miss: Soothe away those aches and pains by taking a dip at the park's free bathhouse, where the water is a toasty 104 degrees.

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